Bin Laden's Last Days: Life with a Terrorist

He was a restless sleeper, say some who knew him. Perhaps because he anticipated the end would come in the middle of the night, with gunfire jolting him and his wife from their bed. But the day that would end with millions worldwide cheering his demise probably began as usual in a house in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Osama bin Laden likely rose at dawn for the first of five daily prayers. For breakfast he might have had a boiled egg (from one of the 100 chickens in the yard) or fresh yogurt (there was a cow too), flat bread and a juice of raisins mixed with water. “He would have expected one of his wives to serve him,” says Jean Sasson, who collaborated with Bin Laden’s first wife, Najwa, and son Omar on the 2009 book Growing Up bin Laden.

Since May 2, when U.S. Navy SEALs raided the eight-bedroom building Bin Laden had shared with family and staff for the last five to six years, a picture has emerged of life with the terrorist. “It was a life more dull than any of us can imagine,” says Sasson. “Omar told me they were not allowed to laugh when they were children.”

Closest to the Al-Qaeda leader was youngest wife Amal Ahmed Abdul Fattah, late 20s, a Yemeni who entered into a 2000 arranged marriage with Bin Laden as a teen. “She was arranged to cement relations in Yemen, his homeland,” says Bin Laden biographer Steve Coll. “His wives spoke not of a romantic love in a western sense, but of a loyalty to him.” Indeed, Fattah reportedly threw herself at the SEALs during the raid. Shot in the leg, she is now in the custody of Pakistani authorities.

After breakfast she would have made herself scarce. “His wife would do her best to keep the children from making noise,” says Sasson. “He had no patience for noisy children.” Besides Safiya, his daughter with Fattah born just before the 9/11 attacks, as many as a dozen children were taken from the compound. Some of these may be kids belonging to Pakistani brothers Arshad and Tariq Khan, who acted as custodians for Bin Laden and lived with him. (Both Khans were killed in the raid, along with a man some believe to be Hamza bin Laden, a grown son.) With their children, and with two or three women covered head-to-toe, the Khans made daily runs to local shops. “It was suspicious,” says Abbottabad resident Saif Ali. “They didn’t like to chat with anyone.” Instead they gathered supplies: bread, olive oil and Bin Laden’s medicines. “Eye drops, nasal spray, antiseptic cream” were all on the shelf, says Nick Schifrin of ABC News, which got the first video inside. “There were also computers. The hard drives had been taken out.”

With the kids studying downstairs-a whiteboard and Arabic books indicate a first-floor classroom-Bin Laden, 54, would have turned to work. “From what we know, Osama was very active,” says James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation. Also, says a senior Pentagon intelligence official, he kept notes about U.S. targets and continued to make videotaped messages, for which he appears to have dyed his graying hair.

Neighbors tell PEOPLE they never saw members of the family leave the walled property, which covered nearly an acre. One local child has said he got rabbits as a gift from a kid who lived there. But far from a mansion, the shabby complex is estimated by a local expert to cost $235,000, much less than had been reported. Was it a prison? “There was punishment for Osama,” guesses Sasson. “He loved taking long walks in the desert or mountains.”

Among the few visitors was a local farmer, Shamraiz Khan, who just days before the raid had plowed the vegetable garden; he was detained briefly by authorities and then released.

But even the farmer, says Shamraiz’s son, never entered the home, which locals eyed warily. “Security was high for the neighborhood and included cameras,” says Schifrin, adding that the SEALs took them off the property. What will they show? If life with Bin Laden in recent years was anything like it once was, says author Sasson, “the one impression I came away with is how joyless everything was.”

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